Engineering traditions in Canada

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Engineering traditions in Canada are diverse. Many of the traditions are practised at the engineering departments of Canadian universities, where student organisations continue to practise traditions started by other engineers in previous years.

Calling of an Engineer[edit]

In the early 1920s, Professor H. E. T. Haultain of the University of Toronto wrote to Rudyard Kipling, who had made reference to the work of engineers in some of his poems and writings. He asked Kipling for his assistance in developing a suitably dignified obligation and ceremony for its undertaking. Kipling was very enthusiastic in his response and shortly produced both an obligation and a ceremony formally entitled "The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer."

Kipling had long been the literary hero of engineers, having published the poem "The Sons of Martha" in 1907. In the poem, Kipling identifies engineers with Martha and her children, who continue to do the chores necessary to keep the household running rather than sit at the Lord's feet.

Although some later engineers would read Kipling's poem as condemning engineers to being second-class citizens compared to managers, those of Haultain's generation were pleased to take "The Sons of Martha" as their defining text.[1]

The Iron Ring[edit]

The first Iron Ring ceremony was held at the University of Toronto in 1925, with the first rings made of "hammered iron" that Kipling called "cold". Although some say the writer used the adjective because the structural material did not forgive the mistakes of engineers working in it, another poem of his puts it in a different and more positive context:

Gold is for the mistress - silver for the maid!
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.
"Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
"But Iron - Cold Iron - is master of them all!"

The iron ring's circular shape has been said to symbolize the continuity of the profession and its methods and the circle is also an appropriate symbol of the iterative engineering design process.[1] The original rings were said to have been fabricated from the wreckage of the Québec Bridge, which collapsed during construction in 1907. Although this is generally thought to be false, the Québec Bridge is still held as significant. That bridge, whose 1,800 foot main span was to be the largest cantilever structure in the world, collapsed under its own weight because of an error in the design engineer's calculations. The bridge was redesigned, but suffered a second accident in 1916, when its centre span fell while being hoisted into place. Finally, in 1917 the bridge was completed and stood across the St. Lawrence River as a symbolic gateway into Canada. The engineers sometimes regard the bridge as a reminder to Canadian engineers to take care with their designs and to persevere in the face of adversity.


Many engineering students become licensed Professional Engineers after graduation which gives them the right to practise in public. It is usually a structured 4 plus year period of work experience following graduation. Professional status entails both responsibilities as well as privileges, and is not, as some may think, the automatic result of graduation. In every province of Canada and every U.S. state, it is by law mandatory for an Engineer to be registered with the appropriate association before he or she may practise as a Professional Engineer. In Canada, registration as a Professional Engineer is granted only to those whose personal qualifications and professional experience, as well as academic training, can be proven to the satisfaction of their province. This is a matter of law and not choice in order to protect the public. Upon graduation, engineering graduates are permitted to apply for the status as an Engineer-in-Training as the next step in becoming a fully qualified Professional Engineer. By law, only Professional Engineers can call themselves by the name "Professional Engineer", "Mechanical Engineer" and "Electrical Engineer" and their abbreviations. The use of the term "Engineer" is restricted in Canada if it implies one is a Professional engineer. And the term "engineer" or engineering" can never be used in the title of a business unless approved by the professional licensing body, Professional Engineers Ontario for example. In this case a business requires a "certificate of authorization" enabling it to advertise and offer engineering services to the public. However there are occasions where engineer may be loosely used to describe people working in the field of Engineering as Technologists, Technicians and Trades. For example the Canadian Coast Guard and the Canadian Navy have "Marine Engineers", "Power Engineers", and "Military Engineers" terms only used within the organization, not publicly. "Locomotive Engineers" have been an integral part of the Canadian railroad industry since its inception.

In a related field, accreditation of baccalaureate programs in Computer Science and Management Information Systems are performed by the Canadian Information Processing Society, while Software Engineering can be accreditaded by both CIPS and the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board. Some professionals in the software development field are as certified as Information Systems Professional (ISP) while others prefer to be accredited as a Professional Engineer under the discipline known as Software Engineering.

Lady Godiva[edit]

At numerous engineering departments at Canadian universities, Lady Godiva is considered a mascot, sometimes called the "Patron Saint of Engineers" or "Goddess of Engineering", and is the subject of the traditional engineering drinking song "Godiva's Hymn".[2] The University of Toronto and McMaster University hold annual "Godiva Weeks". In the past, engineering departments would sponsor a naked woman (or costumed man) to ride a horse across campus. The practice has declined in recent years.[3]


Several engineering departments at Canadian university have a tradition of pulling technical pranks or practical jokes. Perhaps most famous amongst these is the hanging of a Volkswagen Beetle shell from the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as other bridges around Vancouver, by engineering students at the University of British Columbia.[4]


Over the years engineering departments at universities in Canada have come up with various songs, some now obscure but others, such as the Engineers' Hymn, still in frequent use.[2]


The color purple plays a significant role in the traditions of engineering schools across Canada. This fascination with purple is commonly attributed to the story of the sinking of the Titanic, in which the purple-clad Marine Engineers remained on board to delay the ship's sinking.[5] Purple is also the colour of the Engineering Corp in the British Military. It is common for engineers across schools in Canada to dye themselves (and their leather jackets, in the case of Queen's University engineers) purple using the medical dye Gentian Violet, especially during events such as Frosh Week.


  1. ^ a b The Iron Ring: the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer -
  2. ^ a b The National Engineering Book of Song and Verse - Simon Fraser University
  3. ^ Students Scrutinize Lady Godiva Ride - CBC video archive, February 4th, 1990
  4. ^ VW hung off GG Bridge in prank - Jonathan Curiel, San Francisco Chronicle, February 5, 2001
  5. ^ [1] - The Engineers Lost Aboard Titanic